Members of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland watch as Girl Scout badges are manufactured during a 2017 tour of the Lion Brothers factory in Owings Mills, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

If you put a lot of stock in standardized test results, and if you think the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress is a useful snapshot of student achievement, these results will interest you:

Newly released scores on NAEP’s 2018 Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) exam, which is administered every four years, found that America’s eighth-graders scored overall two points higher than they did in 2014 — and that girls outpaced boys.

NAEP is often referred to as “the nation’s report card” or the “gold standard” in student assessment because it is seen as the most consistent, nationally representative measure of U.S. student achievement since the 1990s and because it is supposed to be able to assess what students “know and can do.” Critics say that its benchmarks are not scientifically valid.

The one-hour TEL assessment was given to 15,400 eighth-graders from 600 schools on laptops between January and March 2018.

According to the new results, female eighth-graders in 2018 not only scored higher than their male peers overall but also scored higher than their male peers in more content areas and practices compared with 2014.

Girls did better than boys in 2014, too, by three percentage points, but in 2018, the difference widened to five percentage points.

The test asked students to answer questions aimed at assessing their knowledge and skills in technology principles, solving technology and engineering-related problems, and using technology to communicate and collaborate, according to the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. The assessment included 15 scenario-based tasks and 77 discrete questions.

In 2014, the new results said, 52 percent of eighth-graders who took the exam reported taking at least one class related to technology or engineering. That was up to 57 percent in 2018.

NAEP is administered every two years to groups of U.S. students in the fourth and eighth grades, and less frequently to high school students. (The test-takers are said to be randomly chosen within selected schools.) Tests are given every two years in math and reading and less frequently in science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, technology and engineering literacy, and U.S. history.

NAEP results are highly anticipated in the education world and often seen as a benchmark for progress in school systems — even though the results are often misinterpreted (which you can read about here).

When students score at the “proficient” level on NAEP, many take that to mean they are “proficient” at their grade level, but that isn’t the case. Some critics also say that the test’s benchmarks of Basic, Advanced and Proficient lack scientific validity.

Students in 2018, the governing board said, “were able to select appropriate information to communicate an idea in accordance with fair use guidelines but were less able to accurately cite the source of copyrighted material”:

  • 60 percent of students correctly identified images that could be legally used on a website.
  • 51 percent of students identified the proper reference style to use for writing a citation.
  • 29 percent of students successfully wrote a citation that included all required copyright information.